It was nearly the storybook ending everyone at Desert Vista thought was possible.
A handful of talented, club soccer players who played with each other as youths and even at their home high school for some time return for their senior years together and walk away with a state title.
The Thunder nearly pulled it off losing in the Division I championship match to Brophy. The loss was disappointing, of course, but it didn’t tarnish what was accomplished.
“They had a great club experience, not to take anything away from that, but I think in some small way they are realizing what Desert Vista soccer is about and they love it,” Thunder coach Mike Rabasca said during the season. “They are growing with it. It is nice to watch them remember and embrace what it is to be a Desert Vista soccer player.”
The success led to Rabasca being named the Tribune’s Coach of the Year and senior forward Danny Gavin earning a first-team selection.
“We came together and had a chance,” DV senior Josh Greene, one of the players who returned this year, said after the title game. “We didn’t play our best in a biggest game, but we still had a chance until the end. We never gave in to anything.”
One of the reasons the Thunder came up short was because of Brophy’s defense, which was led by Tribune Player of the Year Clarence Clark.
Clark volunteered himself to play defense permanently for his junior and senior seasons in high school.
“I wasn’t technical, I didn’t have the technical skills to play the position (offense),” he said. “You’re fast, and can score goals, but into the higher levels it isn’t just about being fast.”
Perhaps his greatest strength — and there are many given his speed, bullish body type and aggressiveness — was knowing what wasn’t his strength. The Brophy senior and Tribune Player of the Year finished his high school fútbol career with five losses, 34 goals allowed, 69 wins, two state titles and a runner-up in his three years.
That’s without his three-year football career at wide receiver (he didn’t play football until being convinced by parents and coaches as a sophomore). Or his current project as a makeshift actor in the school’s presentation of “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum,” where he plays a soldier.
As for soccer, his size and physicality has evolved since he took up football four years ago, but after his soccer position switch three years ago, “I run fast and play like an 8-year-old soccer player,” he said. “Keep it simple.”
A team captain this season, he was voted to the “Best 11” post-tournament honors at the Montverde Academy Soccer Tournament in Florida each of the past two seasons, where (literally) the best teams in the nation often gather to play one another. Besides three big performances in Florida, which stood out to Broncos coach Marc Kelly, Clark made several key stops and deflections in both the Division I semifinals and championship matches as the center defender. And despite his affable personality, the rarely-spoken aspect of his leadership came through when Kelly opted to suspend four starters for the first half of the championship victory against Desert Vista after excessive celebration after a goal in the semifinals.
Kelly did so knowing he had someone like Clark to keep the team ready.
“He’s indispensable to our success over the past three years, he’s the reason we could always play a 3-defender system (instead of 4- or 5-), even against the best teams in the country,” Kelly said. “He was the captain and leader, and one of the best I’ve ever had.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-6576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Jason P. Skoda contributed to this story.